Letting go of your plans: How to find resilience & self-empowerment during a crisis

One month ago was the last time I drove to the university hospital in Munich and finally rang the bell - it was my last day of radiation therapy after 33 appointments. During the last 6 months my life changed in unpredicted manners like for many others during the Covid-19 pandemic: Beginning of March – a few days before Germany started to shut down – I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor (meningioma) out of the blue. I had just 2 days to adjust to the new situation before entering the hospital. Now, 6 months, an almost 6h brain surgery and 6 weeks of radiation later I feel better than I have been for many years – physically & mentally:

I feel energized, despite the side effects of the therapy (and believe me neither a brain surgery nor radiation is a walk in the park).

I am proud that I finally had the endurance to turn an unhealthy "couch potato life" style into a healthier me.

I am creative and successful, thinking about new business ideas & projects, currently leading the biggest consulting project of my career

I am getting inspired by reading books, listening to podcasts, participating in webinars and most importantly by exchanging ideas with many inspiring people in my growing network.

feel closer to my family – appreciating each moment spent together with joy and curiosity.

I am sharing my story with you because I was surprised by the strength, courage and optimism I discovered in myself when I needed them most. It may sound pathetic, but I believe that many of us have these “super powers” within ourselves. In particular now, while the pandemic is still spreading, reminding oneself of your own resilience and self-empowerment may help you to navigate an uncertain and volatile future.

What has made the difference for me between living in agony in the light of a shocking diagnosis paired with economic uncertainty and homeschooling two elementary school kids vs. living with joy and embracing the mess?

Hard inner work that has started 5 years ago when I took my first real coaching, beginning to face my inner fears, attitudes, belief systems, but also celebrating my strengths, talents & strong support network. This constant aspiration to let go of perceptions of myself and instead cherishing each moment, embracing imperfection has laid the foundations of my resilience.

Self-empowerment does not come over night. It is a messy work because it forces you to take a deep look into the mirror, facing uncomfortable truths. But it is also enlightening as you will discover hidden strengths and the beauty that lies in being aware and open to each moment, not striving for perfection but for seeing opportunities. Most importantly, you will understand that you are the boss of your own life and how you deal with your fate (For those of you who want to deep dive into this journey, I can highly recommend to start with Brené Brown (2010) “The Gifts of Imperfection”, Michael Singer (2016) “The Surrender Experiment” and in German “Vergeude keine Krise!” by Anja Förster & Peter Kreuz (2020).

How did I benefit from this self-work during my personal health crisis in parallel to the COVID-19 crisis? (Spoiler Alert this will now sound like a self-help book – but it worked at least for me):

It was letting go of expectations what life should look like and deliberately choosing not to resist the change. Accepting what I cannot change, while taking my life in my own hands for what can be changed.[1]

In concrete terms choosing self-empowerment over resisting change meant for me:

  • Courage: I changed what was up to me to change. I did not come up any longer with excuses why I could not do any sports, eat healthy or meditate regularly.
  • Serenity: I accepted what I could not change: the tumor, COVID19 lockdown, the need for homeschooling, etc.
  • Positive Thinking: I focused relentlessly on the good news when it came to my health. That does not mean that I did ignore the bad news, I simply did not fall into the rabbit hole of “what if”. Studies show that an optimism bias and the feeling of self-empowerment are supporting physical recovery as long as you keep on following medical advice.[2]
  • Gratitude: I cherish small and big wins, writing down each morning & evening what I am grateful for
  • Awareness: I am more mindful to my own needs, feeling much earlier now when something is going wrong and addressing it right away.
  • Living in the Now: I take it step by step, day by day. I could not know for sure whether the next day I would feel as well as the last day, but I could enjoy a good day and be kind to myself on bad days.
  • Seeking help: Diseases are marathons and you can’t succeed on your own – I looked for help whenever needed. My support networks of family, friends, medical staff and also my virtual supporters are there when needed.
  • Humor: I never stopped making jokes. I found taking myself not too seriously is quite liberating.

I am not only using this positive, appreciative attitude in my private life – professional topics that I care about like #EmpowermentLeadership (I strongly recommend reading Frei/Morriss “Unleashed”) and #AppreciativeInquiry are also based on focusing on the strengths of people and organizations rather than approaching it from a problem-driven perspective. Growing resilience as an individual will also help to grow more resilient organizations as a leader (I will write more about this in future articles).

I am aware that many of you face dire consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic – may it be economically, psychologically or regarding your health. I am also aware that what has worked for me, may mean nothing to you. But maybe my story inspires you to think about moments when you have been strong, positive and courageous before and remind you of the pool of resilience within yourself.

When have you been surprised by your strength? How do you cope with situation that throw you completely off the track? What has helped you most during the pandemic? How do you stay positive?

If you are interested in learning more about my story, my perspectives on empowering leadership, diversity and strategy just follow me on LinkedIn and remember:

“On the other side of a storm is the strength that comes from having navigated through it. Raise your sail and begin.” Gregory S. Williams


[1] This might sound familiar for those of you who know the so-called Serenity Prayer (originally by Reinhold Niebuhr):

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

courage to change the things I can,

and wisdom to know the difference”

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